The Sing Off Season 4: Episode 5 Recap and Reviews

By: Brian Mangan

Prior reviews:  Episodes 1 & 2, Episode 3, Episode 4

All six groups will be competing in this episode, and two will be eliminated.  As of last episode, we had the groups ranked as such:

Strongest Contenders: Filharmonic (A+, A), Acoustikats (A-, A+)

Wild Cards: VoicePlay (A-, B+), Home Free (B+, A-)

In Danger: Vocal Rush (B-, A), Ten (B+, B+)

Edit: This ended up being one of the strangest Sing Off episodes I’ve ever seen.  The individual performances this week were all very good, but none were great, and they did nothing to really help distill my understanding of what these groups can do.  The group sing off’s at the end were also entertaining, but as one of the judges mentioned (I think it was Jewel), there were no clear winners or losers. At least they were fun — this season of the Sing Off has actually done a great job showing how fun the art form can be in general.  In any event, on to the individual performances:

Home Free: Pretty Woman,  B+ (last time: B+, A-) 

This is a song that’s been overdone in a cappella, so I knew off the bat that Home Free would need to do something interesting with it to hold my interest.  They did not, until the end.  I will say though, that it’s about time that their amazing lead, Austin Brown, got some spotlight here.  He’s got an incredible voice, and I’d love to hear more of it in something truly challenging.

The arrangement was good, but again, no choreo or anything that really strikes you as special.  Even a group like Element that has already been eliminated would throw in a key change or something in the middle of the song to show their innovation and surprise you.  The guys in Home Free are great singers, but this is not a group that I’d ever listen to (one way I evaluate that sometimes is to start listening to a track in the middle: is it a song you want to stop and listen to, or not?)

Ben was “happy to hear it,” as am I, but I remain unmoved by Home Free.  I have no idea why they have front runner status in this competition.

Vocal Rush: Against All Odds, A- (last time: B-, A)

Vocal Rush is all about the music, and it is beautiful.  There is no ego in this group, no image, no nothing — they are there to sing. to. you. and. make. you. feel. it.   They don’t care what they look like, they don’t care about anything, and, as has been mentioned before, they are fearless.

This was not their best performance (Episode 1 and 4 were better) but this did a good job showing the audience another side of this group.  Their grasp of dynamics is off the charts — particularly how long they were able to keep the song soft and slow at the beginning.  Ben said, “I love that performance,” and so did I.

Vocal Rush presents an interesting case for the show and it’s production team, because the winner of the Sing Off, I believe, goes on tour and basically belongs to the show for a year.  Can these young folks do that?  Either way, they have exceeded everyone’s expectations and, if they advance to the final four, there is no question that they have earned it.

Acoustikats: Old Time Rock and Roll, B+ (last time: A-, A+) 

Even though this was a good performance, I think that it was the Acoustikats’ worst one of the competition thus far.  There was nothing wrong with it, per se — the arrangement was interesting and creative, the performance was good, the leads were good — but by comparison I was blown away by “Amazed” and by “Blurred Lines.”  The judges are right when they opine that the lead vocals missed that edge.  Ben is 100% correct when he says the song is a song about rock & roll… I wanted rock & roll!  Where was it?  Given the super high standards that all-male college groups are subjected to on this show, I worry about the Acoustikats’ future after a performance that was merely good.

This brings me to another observation about the Sing Off format: the double-standard toward all-male college groups.  They’re supposed to be fun, so they don’t get credit for that.  They do fun upbeat songs, so the judges and fans always assume that they are one-trick ponies, even if that is clearly not the case (“Amazed” was probably the most heartfelt song of the entire competition.)

And the choreography and energy of a college group?  That’s also expected.  The choreo involving losing the pants this Episode wasn’t my favorite, but I don’t think it’s fair for people just to say well, “that’s a college group, who cares?”  Imagine if a group like Home Free had done even one thing that fun and innovative during the show?  People would have lost their minds.  As it was, Acoustikats have already done ten things that interesting yet are still in danger.

All-male college groups always do okay but never win, so in a crowded field, this might be the excuse needed to dump them.  On the other hand, if there was ever a Sing Off season wide-open enough for a college group to take it, it’s this one.  I’d hate for this merely good performance to be an excuse to boot them later in the episode.

Filharmonic:  I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, A- (last time: A+, A)

Along with Acoustikats, Filharmonic was my favorite coming into this round.  Unfortunately, I also think this was the Filharmonic’s weakest performance thus far.  With that said, I still think it was excellent: I gave them an A- for their efforts.

Filharmonic has been fantastic throughout the competition, so this is a forgivable misstep (especially in the bridge where Shawn and Ben both also noticed it came unglued momentarily).  I agree with Ben that the solo parts that were in the lower register was great and, in my opinion, I think that the Filharmonic has consistently had the best arrangements in the show.  Filharmonic is not in danger like the Acoustikats are, but they need another strong performance next week.

VoicePlay:  Don’t You Forget About Me, A- (last time: A-, B+)

Great song choice for a cappella — there’s a lot going on in the song, and a very obvious energy involved.  Again, however, I find myself distracted by Honey’s voice.  In my opinion, the group immediately takes a quantum leap when Eli takes the lead vocals.

The arrangement was good and so was the choreo (surprise, I agree with Ben, right?) but it was indeed a unique and interesting performance.  I heard someone on another site (will credit when I find it) that described VoicePlay as the obnoxious a cappella band that bothers you at a food court or an amusement park (and indeed, that is where VoicePlay was from) and that is a somewhat accurate description, I’d say.

I would have loved to see VoicePlay come out of the gate with this, because I think this was their best performance of the competition.  Unfortunately, I think this is a case of too little, too late now that only powerhouses remain.  I am sure that VoicePlay, should they be eliminated, will go on to do great things — they are all very likeable, very talented, and they have all the pieces.  They were successful before the Sing Off, so I am sure they will continue to be great successes going forward.

Ten: Skyfall, A (last time: B+, B+)

In the package before the song, one of the members of Ten says: “I don’t think she Sing Off has seen our best performance yet.”  I hope she’s right, because I’m ready for Ten to finally meet the high expectations that everyone has put on them. Luckily for them, THIS SONG IS A GREAT CHOICE, I can’t wait to hear it.

Shawn Stockman has been a Ten fan from the outset based on their potential, and I believe he exaggerated a lot last week when he complimented their last performance, calling it their “iconic performance.”  Although it was good, and a step up from prior performances, that was not their iconic performance.  THIS was their iconic performance.  Ten has finally, finally earned it.  Ten has arrived.

There were some technical problems and bad notes in there, but the dynamics, the energy, the power in the sound, the key change, and the killer leads made this the best performance of the night.  Also, nobody talks about it but the beatboxer in Ten is probably the best in the competition.

Summary:

Ten was my last place group entering tonight, but they simply cannot be eliminated after that performance.  With the Filharmonic being great throughout the performance and Home Free appearing to be a fan-favorite (based on what I’ve seen around online) my guess right now is that there is only one spot for VoicePlay, Vocal Rush and the Acoustikats.

Acoustikats & VoicePlay – The Eye of the Tiger

I’m not sure what this tells us about the groups, head-to-head, but I liked it.  Acoustikats were probably marginally better than VoicePlay, but Moby-guy is great and saving VoicePlay.  Of course it was a fun performance — it was the affable group of college kids and the professional theme park entertainers.  In any event, it was a good performance on a tough song to do a cappella.

Vocal Rush & Ten – Fame

Amazing amazing amazing!!!  The performance as a whole was fantastic and fun, but it was also incredible to hear side-by-side how the Vocal Rush sound was so much fuller than Ten in the beginning despite Ten being adults and professionals.

Ten’s arrangement was a little more interesting and the beatbox, again, it’s nice to see him to get credit again.  Also, nice to see Shawn acknowledge Vocal Rush’s third great lead voice.

Two last observations: doesn’t Ten just seem like Vocal Rush in fifteen years?  I know they said that in the package, but I’ve been thinking it since Episode 1.  Also, how great that the performing arts high school got to sing “Fame”?

Home Free & Filharmonics – I’m All Right 

Incredible arrangement, incredible performance, incredibly fun!  I WISH THIS WAS ONE GROUP.  Again not much to say but I loved, loved, loved the way the arrangement changed from part to part (“make it sexy now!”) and the beat-box-off.

Hard to say which group was better, since they worked so well together.  Again, they need to combine this into one group and make me happy.

Elimination

I think VoicePlay and Acoustikats will be eliminated, but I think VoicePlay and Home Free should be eliminated instead.

I hate being right sometimes.

In the next episode, we’ll see the four remaining groups face off, and to be honest: I have NO idea who is in the lead at this point.  Ten, Home Free, Vocal Rush, and Filharmonic all have, in my opinion, an equal chance of winning the whole thing (with the exception of Vocal Rush, who I think ultimately will be eliminated for some b.s. reason that people will be unhappy with).

Final Note: I’m seeing a lot of people out there comparing these groups to Pentatonix, which is not fair.  Pentatonix is just off-the-charts great, and they were that great from Episode 1 last year.  Nobody in this competition has sung anything as revelational as “ET” was last year, not to mention “Love Lockdown” and “Dog Days” and many others.  So to compare to PTX is not fair.

However those same people do have a point when they say that the field in Season 4 is just not as strong as in Season 3.  It would not be hard to imagine either of the Season 3 runners-up winning this year’s show.  I’m very interested to see what happens in the next Episode — I think it’s clear that nobody is taking that PTX leap this year, but that doesn’t mean that one group can’t separate from the pack and be the greatest.

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Brian Mangan is an attorney in New York City.  He sang in and directed the all-male group Time Check at Marist College, and founded and manages the New York City co-ed group The Callbacks.

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Bonus video from a prior Sing Off (we’ve shown you Maxx Factor and Committed thus far).  Here’s the SoCals with “Already Gone”: